Thanks to the El Paso Times for this article.
Dogs can sniff out hidden humans as well as drugs
By Louie Gilot / El Paso Times
Lady, a Belgian Malinois mix alerted to a person who was hiding in the trunk of a car during a demonstration of the animal’s detection skills last week at the Bridge of the Americas. Lady’s handler Miguel Mendez is at left, and K-9 Supervisor Pete Pon is at center. (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)At El Paso’s international bridges, Fido’s work has gotten tougher.
Customs and Border Protection now trains its drug-sniffing dogs to detect hidden human beings, in addition to smuggled narcotics. The new training started about a year after Sept. 11, 2001, and now, 15 out of the 53 El Paso dogs are cross-trained, agency officials said.
The numbers are up from eight dual-trained dogs just a year and a half ago, officials said.
The dogs’ abilities boggle the human mind.
When a dog’s nose is trained on a car waiting in line at the bridge, it is breaking apart each smell inside the vehicle.
“If there’s a hamburger, he’ll pick up the bread, the onion, the tomato, the meat, the sesame seeds, until he gets a scent picture,” said CBP supervisor Pete Pon, in charge of the canine program.
The new cross-trained dogs will alert their handlers to the scent of hidden humans, not humans sitting in plain view, and to the presence of drugs.
This new capability has also changed the dog’s handlers’ work as well.
When Lady, a 18-month old Belgian Malinois, alerts her handler, Officer Miguel Mendez, “It could be anything, drugs or human bodies in there,” Mendez said.
So far in El Paso, no dog has ever found a hidden human, but officials said they wanted to continue growing the pool of dual-trained dogs and the total number of dogs to 75 or 80. They also said they wanted to dedicate a canine team to the railroad yards to help spot undocumented immigrants who hop on trains. There is currently a gamma ray inspection system scanning wagons for train hoppers.
In California, dogs have been instrumental in spotting migrants sewn into car seats, strapped under cars or wedged in consoles, something that hasn’t be seen in El Paso, officials said.
Dogs can’t work as much as people. Supervisor Pon said dogs work 10 times harder than people and exhaust themselves more quickly.
That point was evident when watching Lady inspect a car with a CBP officer hidden in the trunk.
Lady pulled hard on her leash, her nose darting frantically at the car. She took one whiff at the trunk and dropped to her rear end, ears perked up. Her work was rewarded by a toy fashioned from a rolled up terrycloth towel.